Is checked baggage going away?

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

Joined
May 1, 2017
Messages
711
Location
Pittsburgh, Pa.
Do you see the eventual elimination of checked baggage by Amtrak? Or, at minimum, free checked baggage? It seems those gleaming new baggage cars are being removed from more and more trains of late. It would not be surprising if Amtrak salivates about the revenue airlines take from checked (and even carry on) baggage fees and recoils at the "cost" of providing a free service. I admit that the few times I have been able to take a glimpse into a baggage car there seems to be little baggage. I hope I am wrong but I am not sure the future looks good here.
 

John Bobinyec

Conductor
Joined
Sep 18, 2009
Messages
1,922
Location
CYN
Do you see the eventual elimination of checked baggage by Amtrak? Or, at minimum, free checked baggage? It seems those gleaming new baggage cars are being removed from more and more trains of late. It would not be surprising if Amtrak salivates about the revenue airlines take from checked (and even carry on) baggage fees and recoils at the "cost" of providing a free service. I admit that the few times I have been able to take a glimpse into a baggage car there seems to be little baggage. I hope I am wrong but I am not sure the future looks good here.
Which trains have had their baggage cars removed?

The Carolinian lost its baggage car for a year or so during the pandemic, but it has one now.

jb
 

jis

Chief Dispatcher
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
32,758
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
There are a few Superliner trains in which baggage service is being provided in Coach-Baggage cars instead of a separate Baggage Car. Only Superliner trains carrying Baggage Cars at present appear to be the California Zephyr and the Empire Builder. Rumor has it that the Southwest Chief will get its Baggage Car back starting 5/23/22.

All Single Level trains have Baggage or Bag-Dorm cars, except the Boston section of the LSL, and of course, currently the non-operating Meteor and 65/66/67 too. But the non operating ones will return.

As for why Amtrak thinks that 12 to 14 Baggage Cars must be kept in Mothballs for ever is explainable only by the people who can also explain why upto 7 Viewliner Diners must be kept in Mothballs perpetually. The other mystery is why a significant number of Viewliner-I Sleepers need to be maintained in Mothballs (there are no Viewliner-II Sleepers in mothballs at present). Nobody can ever claim that what Amtrak Management does always makes a great deal of sense. One would imagine if and when they emerge from their staff shortage some of these will emerge from Mothballs, if the explanation is that there are not enough people to keep them mechanically fit for operation. Same is possibly true of Trans-Dorms too.
 
Last edited:

Cal

Engineer
Joined
Jan 23, 2021
Messages
3,873
Location
Socal
Surfliner checked baggage came back recently IIRC, and when railfanning in years past I have seen it being used frequently at Fullerton.
 

JP1822

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 8, 2019
Messages
103
Clearly it has been proved that Amtrak can even be creative enough to use a Superliner Trans/Dorm Sleeper as a make-shift baggage car (as seen with the Portland section of the Empire Builder this past winter). The future of baggage service and the baggage cars remain utmost mystery. There’s too many of the cars.

If CAF was reliable and a good manufacturer, I’d say send the baggage cars back (Viewliner shells) and make them into sleepers and a LD cafe/lounge (to replace the Amfleet II Diner Lite cars). This presumes the labor market will improve and capacity on trains returns to pre-pandemic levels. Demand has returned, but Amtrak can’t keep up with capacity across its LD system.

Boardman’s intentions were good at the time of ordering (to bolster M&E and try to make money off of checked baggage). But there’s better revenue channels that have since emerged it seems.

I still can’t figure out why Amtrak didn’t fully deploy all Viewliner II Sleepers. If anything were to be mothballed on the single level sleeper fleet - mothball the worst of the Viewliner I’s. VIewliner I’s and II’s should be treated the same as Superliner Sleeper I’s and II’s. The Viewliner I’s could be the shop reserve, bad-order reserve, and any other reserve for the Viewliner II’s. Overall the Viewliner II’s have one less roomette than the Viewliner I’s. Not that hard to block out as needed, or substitute in if needed since they hold the greater capacity.

Likewise, could there have been better options to deploy the Viewliner II Diners rather than mothballing some of those too. Amtrak’s been trying to get a combined diner/lounge out of them - especially for the Cardinal. I think they could have found a way with these cars, or at least done something with them (viewing/lounge car) to keep the fleet active or offer an added amenity that didn’t necessarily mean providing “staff” directly to the car if not providing food service. No reason why the Cardinal and Crescent couldn’t have had a Viewliner II Diner. If short on staff, treat it like the upper level of a Superliner Sightseer Lounge with the galley locked off (yes it can lock).

In general, Amtrak has the demand right now, but is lacking capacity to handle it. The leisure and travel industry has been trying to bolster up and be prepared for the summer. Amtrak is trailing behind. Yes, I realize a lot has to do with Amtrak lack of labor. But they’ve not advanced that far in trying to add capacity since it was initially taken away. They got some re-arranging of the deck chairs coming it seems, but no influx of capacity addItion.
 

Explore

Train Attendant
Joined
Oct 11, 2005
Messages
61
I'm a skeptic by nature, but Amtrak baggage service is a great deal. Generous for carry-ons, and two free checked bags plus two additional at $20 each. It's the only way I can transport a 12' x 12', 1.5-inch thick wrestling mat in pieces, cost-effectively between Northern and Southern California....
 
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,360
Location
Spring Creek, NC
In recent years, Amtrak has eliminated checked baggage service at many stations. Which might have something to do with the under-utilized baggage car OP noticed.

Sounds like a self-reinforcing death spiral to me: Reduce the number of passengers who can exercise the checked-baggage option (which needs to be available at BOTH ends of the trip). Fewer people use the baggage cars. Management sees that the baggage cars are less full. Decision made to eliminate under-utilized baggage car, making checked baggage available to even fewer passengers....
 

JP1822

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 8, 2019
Messages
103
OK - so if checked baggage use is reduced - either due to the passenger’s option/trend OR Amtrak eliminates “checked baggage” at a particular station stop - then WHY order 70+ baggage cars??? It’s not like these cars are old! Amtrak just retired the Heritage Baggage cars a few years ago to put these NEW cars in place. I understand that Boardman ordered them, and he had a different vision, but that came at a BIG cost.
 

Karl1459

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 15, 2010
Messages
466
Location
Oregon
The big question is what level of baggage service is part of Amtrak's passenger service mandate that the taxpayers are funding? Of course that answer is at best murky due to the poor definition of Amtrak's mission by Congress.

1. Should full baggage service be provided at all stations for all trains? (Staffing$ and Station infrastructure$)
2. Should full baggage service only be provided at major stations and strategic intermediate points?
3. Should "gate check" baggage service be provided at unstaffed stations?
4. Should checked baggage service be abandoned, and extra storage space allotted in coach/sleeper cars for the excess baggage that is checked now. Excess baggage space might have to be reserved similar to how bicycles are reserved on some trains.

The level of service defined will predict the need for specialized cars based on the number of passengers.
 
Joined
May 1, 2017
Messages
711
Location
Pittsburgh, Pa.
OK - so if checked baggage use is reduced - either due to the passenger’s option/trend OR Amtrak eliminates “checked baggage” at a particular station stop - then WHY order 70+ baggage cars??? It’s not like these cars are old! Amtrak just retired the Heritage Baggage cars a few years ago to put these NEW cars in place. I understand that Boardman ordered them, and he had a different vision, but that came at a BIG cost.

These baggage cars were ordered many years ago under a much different Amtrak management.
 
Joined
May 1, 2017
Messages
711
Location
Pittsburgh, Pa.
In recent years, Amtrak has eliminated checked baggage service at many stations. Which might have something to do with the under-utilized baggage car OP noticed.

Sounds like a self-reinforcing death spiral to me: Reduce the number of passengers who can exercise the checked-baggage option (which needs to be available at BOTH ends of the trip). Fewer people use the baggage cars. Management sees that the baggage cars are less full. Decision made to eliminate under-utilized baggage car, making checked baggage available to even fewer passengers....

Yes, this was part of my thinking but not articuated as you have done.
 
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,360
Location
Spring Creek, NC
The big question is what level of baggage service is part of Amtrak's passenger service mandate that the taxpayers are funding? Of course that answer is at best murky due to the poor definition of Amtrak's mission by Congress.

1. Should full baggage service be provided at all stations for all trains? (Staffing$ and Station infrastructure$)
2. Should full baggage service only be provided at major stations and strategic intermediate points?
3. Should "gate check" baggage service be provided at unstaffed stations?
4. Should checked baggage service be abandoned, and extra storage space allotted in coach/sleeper cars for the excess baggage that is checked now. Excess baggage space might have to be reserved similar to how bicycles are reserved on some trains.

The level of service defined will predict the need for specialized cars based on the number of passengers.

Travelers are going to carry baggage regardless of how you define "level of service." The question is whether all the bags take up space in the passenger cars, or at least some of the baggage goes into baggage cars.
 

amtrakpass

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 21, 2016
Messages
200
A simple question of would you like to check your bags? either in person, station or app and then having the question answered would probably increase usage of the baggage car quite a bit in my view. I have seen many people bring large bags on that were unaware checking it was an option. And it is too bad it is not available at more stations. You could even have a baggage man ride the train and offer it at most every station in the system if you really wanted too. But I would settle for getting some common sense actions like baggage service back on the Lake shore to Boston for the time being.
 

jebr

Enthusiastic Transit Rider
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2012
Messages
4,759
Location
"The Last Great City of the East," St. Paul, MN
I think part of the issue as well is the 45-minute hard cutoff for checking in luggage. I don't see a need to arrive at most stations an hour ahead of time (if not more) to ensure that I have it checked in 45 minutes before departure. At MSP, my home station, there's little need to arrive more than 15 minutes before departure unless you're checking a bag, and there's not really a good way to productively use that time, even to grab breakfast or something. I rarely check a bag leaving MSP because of this - I'd rather have the extra half-hour and just throw it on the luggage rack downstairs.
 
Joined
Feb 2, 2005
Messages
795
Exactly the 45 minute rule needs some flexibility and common sense from employees. Case in point we checked bags on our last SWC trip from Fullerton to Galesburg. Walk into Fullerton depot 50 mins prior to departure. As we’re walking in both agents put up signs back in 15 mins and walk out to service a Surfliner train. When they return 15 minutes later us and everyone else in line gets chastised for not having our bags checked in 45 prior. They of course check them in but tell us don’t expect this exception next time. The train was 30 mins late as it turned out so everyone including the agents sat around another hour… 🤦‍♂️

You have to have flexibility. Common sense would dictate if the trains 2 hours late your not going to arrive 2:45 early to check a bag. Unfortunately most but not all agents see that logic.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
3,577
Should full baggage service be provided at all stations for all trains? (Staffing$ and Station infrastructure$)

Yes, within reason. At small "stations", i.e. Cumberland, MD, there aren't the facilities to or personnel to provide that service.

Should full baggage service only be provided at major stations and strategic intermediate points?

There would be no debate about what a "major" station was, but, a "strategic station"? I suspect that would cause a debate.

Amtrak's management would be more foolish than they sometimes are if baggage service was eliminated. Their baggage service may attract ridership as compared to flying.

The amount of luggage that I have seen on the luggage carts in stations like Chicago tells me that lots of luggage gets checked.
 

Cal

Engineer
Joined
Jan 23, 2021
Messages
3,873
Location
Socal
I believe Amtrak is going to be staffing all stations that had a certain load factor within the next few years. Not sure if it was part of the infrastructure bill or not, but still.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
6,011
Location
Washington State
I believe Amtrak is going to be staffing all stations that had a certain load factor within the next few years. Not sure if it was part of the infrastructure bill or not, but still.
They were mandated to restaff all stations that had been staffed in like 2016 (I am unsure of the base year) by Congress in response to Anderson's massive cutbacks in station staffing. They still have not gotten there.

Anderson + COVID was an absolutely lethal one two punch for Amtrak.
 

toddinde

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 23, 2015
Messages
474
Location
Sierra Vista, AZ
As part of the effort to kill the national network, Amtrak got rid of many station agents which of course reduced the use of checked baggage service. They also got rid of Amtrak Express which was a well used service that served communities with economical express shipping by train and literally did nothing but bring in revenue at zero cost to Amtrak. It was just misguided economy by a company seeking to get rid of long distance trains in favor of stub corridors connected by busses. So dumb.
 

Barb Stout

Conductor
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
1,083
Location
Albuquerque, NM
On the not-so-many trains I have been on, the luggage racks in the passenger cars were often close to full and sometimes there was already no space on the bottom shelf where I have to put my luggage due to my height and strength, so I can't see how checked baggage/baggage car could be eliminated. I do wish that checked baggage was available at all stations for sake of consistency if nothing else. For the unstaffed stations, couldn't someone on the train check baggage and put it in/take it out of the baggage car?
 

amtrakpass

Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 21, 2016
Messages
200
I have been making it a habit of checking baggage more often if I get a viewliner sleeper since they don't have the common area luggage rack the superliners do. Sometimes the attendant will let you store an extra bag in a vacant room but if the car is sold out that is not an option and space is a little bit limited for storage in a roomette. I certainly wouldn't expect them too but one time the sleeping car attendant even went back and got my checked suitcase for me out of the baggage car as we were pulling in the station to help me make a connection quicker since the next train did not have checked bags. That was above and beyond but it does show some simple things can really help the service.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
24,378
Location
Austin Texas
I have been making it a habit of checking baggage more often if I get a viewliner sleeper since they don't have the common area luggage rack the superliners do. Sometimes the attendant will let you store an extra bag in a vacant room but if the car is sold out that is not an option and space is a little bit limited for storage in a roomette. I certainly wouldn't expect them too but one time the sleeping car attendant even went back and got my checked suitcase for me out of the baggage car as we were pulling in the station to help me make a connection quicker since the next train did not have checked bags. That was above and beyond but it does show some simple things can really help the service.
Before weapons were allowed to be checked on Amtrak, the Bag Cars were accesible to the Crew( some even took their " Smoke Breaks" there) and several times I was allowed to put my Bag into the Bag Car without checking it since storage space was so limited on Viewliners.
 
Top